Matthew Slater calling it quits after 15 seasons in the NFL would not have come as a surprise to anybody.
He is a three-time world champion, has been named to 10 Pro Bowls and the New England Patriots’ Team of the 2010s, and — most importantly for a father of four — has avoided any major injuries throughout his career. However, Slater will be trying to add to his already legendary résumé in 2023: he announced last week that he would return.
Slater staying put for a 16th season is good news for the Patriots given his importance both on and off the field. On the one hand, he is still one of the NFL’s best special teamers; on the other hand, he is a 12-time captain and one of the most respected players in all of football.
Accordingly, as he explained during a recent interview with patriots.com, he sees his job as a pretty nuanced one.
“I do believe that my role at this point is not just about covering kicks, blocking for returners,” he said. “I think it’s about fostering culture, building relationships and pouring into young men. You can do that in other capacities but the way you do that as a player is very different. The way you’re able to connect with guys is very different.
“That’s something I still have a lot of passion for and that’s something I certainly wasn’t ready to walk away from. That factored in huge into the decision because I feel like there are certain things you can do as a player that you can’t do as an administrator or as a staff member. Things I felt like were unfinished in terms of relationships and culture so that definitely factored in.”
Slater and the Patriots reached an agreement on a fully-guaranteed one-year, $2.67 million contract — one that will effectively cost the team only a fraction of its total value.
Regardless of the financial aspect, the deal is a good one for both sides. Whereas New England will keep one of its top special team performers and locker room leaders around for another year, Slater will get an opportunity to end his career on a higher note than the one the 2022 season provided.
The Patriots’ final game that year, after all, was a bad one from a kicking game perspective: the team surrendered two kickoff return touchdowns in a 35-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 18. Needless to say, Slater has a desire to right some wrongs.
“I did take it hard,” he said about that game. “Certainly you don’t want to go out like that, but I think I have to be willing and ready to understand that you don’t get to control how this ends. That’s just the nature of the beast. I’ve talked to my dad a lot about that. He didn’t necessarily end the way he wanted to end. A lot of guys ... you don’t get to choose how it ends.
“As much as I didn’t want that to be the last chapter to my story, I had to accept that it possibly was going to be. That would have been a hard pill to swallow, so I’m glad that it’s not and I’m hopeful that I can end things on my own terms. That’s certainly my prayer so we’ll see how it goes.”